Exercise: the key to slowing your biological clock.

My Grandpa passed away from cancer yesterday afternoon, after a long and happy 89 years of life. He was kind, loving and generous and dedicated his life to his family,especially to his wife who he adored and would have done anything for. He was a veteran from world war 2, father of 6, and grandfather of… Too many of us to count! He was an athlete through and through, doing many sports including running, swimming, golf and his absolute favorite, tennis. Up until only a few months ago he played tennis regularly, giving guys half his age a run for their money. As a result, he was able to lead a very independent, active and fruitful life. In memory of his life long love of tennis, this article will be about the role of exercise on health in old age. This article is dedicated to my grandpa, mom, and the rest of my family.

Aging entails to a slow reduction of muscle, strength, energy and ultimately a reduced ability to partake in day to day activities. It results in a chronic low grade of inflammation, a reduced level of antioxidant capacity and an increased level of reactive oxygen species. Maximal physiological function is seen at about 20 years of age. From then on theres about a 10% function reduction, in terms of heart health and strength, per decade and about 30% by about the age of 60. These reductions reach a limit at about 90, when a loss of independence is often seen. Heart beats are slowed, muscle mass is reduced, bones lose their ability to make new cells, metabolisms decline, etc. While this loss of function is unfortunately inevitable, many factors, on top of genetics, modulate the rate of function loss. Exercise, diet and overall lifestyle are huge factors that determine longevity and health.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of exercise to get the many associated health benefits. Unfortunately, less then half of us regularly exercise, and even fewer elderly individuals do so. Older adults are often discouraged about exercise programs, especially when they have led previously sedentary lives or have a chronic health condition. Inactivity tends to increase the progression of muscle loss and weakness, resulting in a higher fall risk and a reduction of functionality later in life. An exercise program is therefore an effective way to age with grace and get the most out of your later years. My grandpa managed to stay completely independent, while playing tennis 3 or so times a week; an amazing feat for someone in there 80s! He was a prime example of all of the benefits exercise comes with.

A combination of strength and endurance training (concurrent training) is seen to be the most effective way to counteract the function declines associated with old age.Strength training is great because it results in muscle growth and power whereas endurance training is seen to really enhance aerobic capacity and metabolism by our muscles (e.g. Increased mitochondria, myoglobin, capillary density, etc.). Concurrent training has been seen to have good results in treating many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, cancer, arthritis, and so on. Regular exercise in general is a great way to maintain a healthy body weight, improve flexibility, reduce inflammation, increase balance, improve blood sugar control and counteract the enhanced bone mineral reductions in elderly individuals.

Mental health is also greatly affected by exercise. Depression is becoming more and more common, especially in older populations, and is predicted to be the most prominent disease in elderly by 2020. Exercise is seen to improve mood, reduce risks for dementia, slow cognitive decline and improve overall brain health.Furthermore, exercise helps to improve sleep, stress and self confidence and is an effective treatment strategy for individuals suffering from depression. My grandpa was always happy, positive and extremely intelligent; obviously a lot of this was from other factors such as genetics and upbringing, but exercise definitely had a contribution.

No matter previous activity or inactivity levels, anyone can benefit from regular exercise. So how do you get going? It may be daunting to start, but exercise really doesn’t have to be anything extreme, you just need to get moving! If you were previously sedentary, start slow and maybe consider getting a green light from your doctor if you have some preexisting condition. Commit to a schedule and force yourself to stick to it; eventually it will become a habit and in no time at all you’ll reap its rewards. Exercise shouldn’t hurt or make you feel like crap, so if you feel off during activity, take it seriously. Good endurance workouts for older individuals (and anyone for that matter) can include walking, yoga, fitness classes and even aquafit. Strength exercises can be done with free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight (rock climbing anyone?). It’s best to find activities that you enjoy and can maybe even get competitive with, like my grandpa with tennis, so that you wont dread your workouts.

Exercise is more and more important as you get older and is seen to manage pain and inflammation, boost energy, keep a healthy brain, decrease risks for disease and allow an increased independence. Exercise really is the key to staying healthy, functional and strong as you age. Hopefully this article has given some of you guys that extra assentive to stay active, especially as you get older.

R.I.P Grandpa

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